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Britain’s environment department is to hold consultations with its fishing industry in June over remote electronic monitoring (REM) in vessels over 10 metres in length.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) say it wants to “learn lessons as we go” and work in “open collaboration” with the British industry.

It has described REM as “the clear next step for evidence-based fisheries management” but has acknowledged it is a “big step”.

It has identified priority fisheries and says there are no plans for REM on vessels under 10 metres at this stage.

It has identified challenges, including issues around data ownership, privacy, storage, and ensuring remote monitoring is focused on delivering for “science” and for the fishing industry.

In Ireland, a pilot project to test REM technology has been initiated by the SFPA as part of a wider EU north-western waters initiative.

However, a search for volunteers has attracted little enthusiasm, with industry organisations seeking more consultation.

The SFPA said that consultation on REM was a matter for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

REM allows for the remote monitoring of fishing vessels, providing “valuable information on fishing activity and compliance with regulatory requirements, including the landing obligation”, the SFPA has explained.

“The legislative introduction of REM in fisheries control at European level is nearing certainty, having passed through the initial consultative stage, through the European Parliament and back for final consultations,” its executive chair Paschal Hayes has said.

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The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) has described as “an absolute scandal” the Government’s delay in paying out funding to compensate the seafood sector for the impact of Brexit.

The Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) worth almost 1 billion euro was allocated to Ireland by Brussels to cushion the impact of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, and must be spent by the end of this year.

Although the seafood sector is one of the hardest hit, only a small percentage of the BAR total has been promised to compensate for loss of quota and access to British grounds.

Ireland lost 26% of its mackerel quota and 14% of Nephrops (prawns) quota under the final deal.

“It beggars belief that a tranche of money which will provide so much relief to our members is not being disseminated,” KFO chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said.

“ We lag behind our EU counterparts and what’s of most concern to us is that if we don’t distribute this funding by year-end, it’ll be returned to Europe and permanently lost to our fishermen,” he said.

“This is potentially an appalling vista and we’re calling for the most urgent of political action by Minister [for Marine] Charlie McConalogue on this matter,” he said.

This week’s BIM report on seafood statistics for 2022 “underlines the seismic challenge” faced by KFO members, with Dublin Bay prawns now surpassing mackerel as the most valuable wild species for the industry, he noted.

The report also states that the volume of exports fell by 13% to 293,000 tonnes due mainly to the lower quotas of mackerel and blue whiting as a result of Brexit.

“In 2022 alone, we have had more than 12,000 tonnes of mackerel valued at approximately € 18 million taken from our quota as a direct result of Brexit. No business can, nor could, be expected to sustain losses on this scale,” Mr O’Donoghue said.

The KFO has warned that in the absence of financial support and other burden-sharing measures, Ireland’s pelagic sector will shed more than 1,200 jobs by 2030 because of Brexit.

From 2021 to the end of 2023, pelagic fishermen will have had more than 37,000 tonnes of their mackerel quota stripped away because of Brexit, resulting in loss of more than €52million, it warned.

“This fishery is the cornerstone of KFO members’ businesses, with fishermen in the northwest feeling the cold wind from Brexit for more than two years now and further hits to come over the next three years,” it said.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine did not respond to a request for comment.

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Plans to ban commercial fishing in ten per cent of Scottish waters have prompted two fishermen to write a protest song comparing it to another Highland clearance.

Donald MacNeil from Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides and Angus MacPhail, who is the founder of the Scottish group Skipinnish, have recorded “The Clearances Again” to highlight the impact of introducing highly protected marine areas (HMPAs).

“Farewell to the Cliffs of Mingulay

And the shores of the Sandray Sound

And the glow of a boat well laden

Steaming north when you’re homeward bound,” the song starts.

Scottish government proposals for HMPAs would limit fishing and aquaculture in around ten per cent of Scottish waters.

The original Highland clearances involved forced eviction of residents in the Highlands and Scotland’s western islands from the mid-18th century to mind 19th century to allow for grazing sheep.

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In a meeting with representatives of the Inshore fisheries sector today, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue announced a new round of funding under the Brexit Inshore Fisheries Business Model Adjustment Scheme.

The support scheme, which operated in 2022, was put in place to assist inshore fishers in adjusting to the impacts of Brexit on their businesses and delivered on a recommendation of the Report of the Seafood Task Force – Navigating Change (October 2021). The scheme was delivered successfully to over 800 eligible applicants. However, given the ongoing challenges faced by the inshore sector, the scheme has been redeveloped and relaunched to offer further support to inshore fishers.

The Minister and inshore representatives also discussed a range of other topics important to the inshore sector, including developments in the hook and line mackerel fishery, North West herring policy and new fishing opportunities for spurdog. The Minister also spoke about his initiative to establish a Brown Crab Working Group in order to review the current arrangements in place for that fishery and to examine management options likely to support the sustainability of brown crab stocks in Ireland.

Announcing the new Scheme, Minister McConalogue said: “Our inshore fishers make a significant contribution to our coastal communities and blue economy, but have been significantly impacted by Brexit and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. While positive steps have been taken to support these fishers, the challenges in terms of operating costs and market access remain.”

“I am announcing today up to €3.5 million in short-term funding for the sector. This new round of support will bridge the gap for the inshore sector, while longer-term measures to strengthen the seafood sector as a whole take effect.”

The 2023 support scheme will introduce a suite of new online training modules to be made available by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), specifically tailored to the inshore fishing sector which will help these fishers manage costs, increase product quality and reach new customers. The scheme will be open to owners of fishing vessels under 18 metres in length, registered in the polyvalent, polyvalent potting and specific segments. Payments will be made to eligible beneficiaries who complete one of the modules, in order to assist them in implementing changes to their business model. Payment rates remain at €2,700 for owners of vessels under 8 metres in length and €4,000 for owners of vessels between 8 metres and 17.99 metres in length.

Minister McConalogue added: “This additional measure for the Inshore sector is part of a wider comprehensive package of supports and development strategies which will transform the seafood industry so that it can continue to develop sustainably. The ongoing investments in promoting inshore stocks in domestic and overseas markets, in developing marine infrastructure and investing in all elements of the seafood supply chain will provide opportunities for inshore fishers. These latest short-term supports will allow these fishers to capitalise on these opportunities and navigate through the current challenging environment.”

The Scheme will open in the coming weeks and will be administered by Bord Iascaigh Mhara. Further details will be available from BIM in due course here

For vessel owners to be eligible, they must demonstrate that they were actively fishing during 2022. The scheme will specify requirements in this respect.

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Ireland's sea fish landings were down, but prices were up last year, according to Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

BIM’s annual business of seafood report for 2022 estimates that the seafood sector was worth 1.3 billion euros last year.

In spite of a “volatile year”, there was a 4% annual growth due to a combination of higher prices, the reopening of restaurants after Covid-19 and an increase in the consumption of seafood in Ireland.

BIM chief executive Caroline Bocquel says the figures reflect the “enduring strength of those working in the seafood industry” and the vital role which the sector plays in coastal communities in Ireland.

“BIM remains steadfast in its commitment to support industry to navigate the fast-changing global landscape,” she said.

Sea fish landings at Irish Ports Sea fish landings at Irish ports in 2022

The report notes that while the volume of seafood produced by the Irish sector didn’t match previous years , there was very strong price growth, particularly in the sea-caught fish sector, which saw prices increase by 38%.

The value of the overall Irish seafood sector increased by 13% to €703 million, while the overall value of Irish aquaculture products increased by 10% to €196 million, it said.

Dublin Bay prawns surpassed mackerel as the most valuable wild caught species for the industry, having more than doubled in price (+53%) in 2022.

Irish rock oysters (+8%) and rope grown mussels (+7%) also reflected strong price growth last year within the aquaculture sector, the report notes.

The top-selling species on the Irish market during the year were salmon (€119 million) and cod (€44 million), the BIM Business of Seafood report says.

It says organic salmon was the top species produced by the aquaculture sector – accounting for 13,500 tonnes worth €124 million – while Dublin Bay prawns were the top species landed by the Irish fleet, accounting for 6,200 tonnes with a value of €82 million.

During 2022, a total of €507 million worth of seafood was landed at Irish ports, which was a 14% increase on 2021 in value terms, the report says.

Killybegs in Co Donegal was the State’s largest fishing port in 2022 by value, with landings worth €135 million, closely followed by Castletownbere in Co Cork, with €129 million worth of catch landed.

The report notes that the value of landings – particularly in whitefish and prawns- also increased significantly in the ports of Ros an Mhíl, Co Galway, where landings are in long-term decline, along with Clogherhead, Co Louth, and Greencastle, Co Donegal.

The report records a significant increase in Government investment in 2022 as funding under the Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) began to come onstream.

The report, which was published by Minister for Marine, Charlie McConalogue, shows a 10% increase in Government investment (€255 million) in 2022.

This included the opening of several BAR schemes to cushion the impact of Brexit.

Mr McConalogue referred to the significant challenges facing the industry in 2022, including the conflict in Ukraine, which led to rising energy costs as well as reduced quotas and difficult trading conditions with the UK in the aftermath of Brexit.

“However, the industry has once again shown its resilience to such shocks and continues to be a key socio-economic driver in coastal communities, employing more than 15,000 people,” he said.

The sector employed about 15,300 people in 2022, with 1,993 registered vessels, over ten seafood processors and just under 300 aquaculture sites, BIM says.

It says that more than 8,200 people are directly employed in the sector, with a further 7,100 jobs supporting the sector indirectly.

Evolution of the Irish seafood quota from 1982 to 2023Evolution of the Irish seafood quota from 1982 to 2023

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A fishing industry leader has questioned the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency’s handling of its appeal for volunteers for remote electronic monitoring of fishing vessels.

Late last month, the SFPA issued a press release stating that it was enlisting the support of producer organisations to find a number of Irish-registered fishing vessels for the project.

Its staff had by then failed to find sufficient vessels which would volunteer to participate.

The SFPA says it wrote to producer organisations in advance of issuing a press release publicising the appeal.

However, the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) has confirmed it was contacted about the proposed pilot project on Friday, March 24th – the same day that the press release was issued.

“We appreciate that new technologies can have benefits for the regulation and sustainability of the fishing industry,”IFPO chief executive Aodh O’Donnell said.

“ But this proposal and the practical considerations involved need to be discussed with our members. The Irish seafood sector is already subject to the very highest levels of control and is very well regulated,” O’Donnell said.

“We can’t ignore the irony that very large factory ships and foreign vessels fish openly in our waters without any REM and with very little monitoring,”he pointed out.

The SFPA said it wrote to additional fisheries producer organisations (POs) “prior to March 24th” to encourage participation in the REM pilot project.

“Preliminary conversations were had over a period of time with individual fishermen as well as a number of producer organisaitions,”it said.

The REM technology to monitor fishing may become a legal requirement within the EU, and the pilot project is part of a larger EU north-western waters initiative, the SFPA has said.

REM allows for the remote monitoring of fishing vessels, providing “valuable information on fishing activity and compliance with regulative requirements, including the landing obligation”, the SFPA explained.

“The legislative introduction of REM in fisheries control at European level is nearing certainty, having passed through the initial consultative stage, through the European Parliament and back for final consultations,”SFPA executive chair Paschal Hayes said in his authority’s press release.

He said there has been work in areas of Britain, including Scotland, to mandate the use of REM for some areas and some fisheries, “which may impact Irish fishers”.

“Therefore, we feel it is important that we gain real and meaningful experience of REM and put ourselves in a position where both the SFPA and the Irish fishing industry can guide and advise on the technicalities of REM, its introduction and uses,” he said.

“Ireland holds the largest stake in the northwestern waters, and gaining experience of REM is, we feel, of significant importance for our fishing industry,” Hayes said.

“We believe that this technology has the potential to bring significant benefits to the Irish fishing industry and in assisting the SFPA to fulfil its control and enforcement mandate for all fishing vessels operating in Ireland’s exclusive economic zone,” he said.

“The SFPA wishes to work with the Irish fishing industry to manage the introduction of REM, and to explore its potential benefits as well as address any concerns through the pilot project,” Hayes said.

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The Irish fishing Industry is making gains in Europe, a meeting of fishermen in Killybegs, County Donegal, has been told.

They were assured by Fine Gael MEP, Colm Markey that the voice of the Irish fishing and seafood industry is now being heard in Europe and that this is starting to deliver positive gains.

The meeting was co-hosted by Aodh O Donnell of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO), Brendan Byrne of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA). Manus Boyle of the Dunkineely, Bruckless and Killybegs Branch of Fine Gael chaired the event, which was attended by a broad cross-section of the seafood sector, including stakeholders from other ports in Donegal, Galway and Cork.

“The catching and processing sectors pulled together to run a highly effective lobbying campaign,” O Donnell told the meeting. “This succeeded in keeping Norway out of the Irish Box. We still have a long way to go to secure our fair share of EU fishing quotas, but we are engaging directly with both the European Commission and the EU Parliament.”

Mr Markey agreed that there were still many issues to address at EU level. However, he added that attitudes in Europe to the Irish fishing and seafood industries had changed, and Irish voices were now getting a more receptive hearing.

Aodh O Donnell thanked Colm Markey MEP for his support at EU level, and the IFPEA’s Brendan Byrne for his co-operation and support for the lobbying campaign. He also thanked members of the fishing and seafood industry for taking part in the Killybegs event. “This meeting is not just a once-off, it is part of a process of engagement which we intend to maintain.”

Brendan Byrne of the IFPEA said he was delighted to co-host the meeting and it was important for the industry to stay united. “There was a frank and open discussion and exchange of views on the need to continue the fight at European level. We need to secure better outcomes, as we face the ongoing adverse impacts of the Irish transfer of quotas to the UK under Brexit. But together, we are a stronger voice, and we can achieve more for our industry and our coastal communities.”

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Cork South West Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan recently hosted Billy Kelleher MEP for a series of meetings with key fishing sector representatives in West Cork.

The discussions, which took place in Castletownbere, Baltimore and Union Hall, focused on a range of pressing issues facing the fishing industry, including quota sharing, decommissioning, and regulatory challenges.

"It's no secret that the fishing sector has faced unprecedented challenges over the past couple of years," said Deputy O'Sullivan.

"It's essential that our MEPs have a clear understanding of these issues, and I’m glad Billy - who is no stranger to West Cork or the fishing industry - came to these important discussions."

Stakeholders at the meetings included fishermen and processors, who took the opportunity to express their frustrations and concerns directly to both Deputy O'Sullivan and MEP Kelleher.

Among the critical topics discussed were impacts of Brexit, the urgent need for Ireland to increase its quota share across various species, the importance of timely payments for those who participate in decommissioning, and the high level of regulation and policing faced by the Irish fishing sector.

“Brexit has had a major impact on Cork’s fishing industry due to quota reductions,” Mr Kelleher said.

“Any changes in fishing policy must take into account Brexit and the changing migratory paths of fish species. Fishers want to see a sustainable future for themselves, their families, and the wider community that they work as part of".

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Irish fishing industry leaders have given a mixed reaction to the conclusion of a fisheries deal between the EU and Norway earlier this month.

Norway, a non-EU member, “still secured more out of the deal than Ireland”, Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) chief executive Aodh O’Donnell said.

“The strongest possible one for our fishers” was how Ireland’s marine minister Charlie McConalogue described the final deal concluded on March 17th. He paid tribute to the role of Irish producer organisation representatives in ensuring this.

McConalogue said he was “particularly satisfied that in relation to blue whiting, Ireland was able to secure a 33% reduction in the traditional level of Norwegian access to EU waters from 68% to 45%”, along with Norway’s “complete exclusion” from the blue whiting fishery in the Irish Box off the north-west Irish coast.

The minister said that he was “able to maintain the principle that Ireland's contribution to the EU quota transfer to Norway would be capped at 4% and, as importantly, established for the first time that Ireland would be directly compensated with additional quota by other member states for transfers and access provisions”.

“I was able to secure an additional 4,820 tonnes of blue whiting for the Irish fleets,” he said, adding that scientists advised that the stock was in “good shape”.

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said the KFO had two key priorities since the negotiations between the EU and Norway began last October.

“The first was that there was to be no access to the Irish Box unless it was paid for in blue whiting. The second was that the transfer of blue whiting from the EU to Norway in the balance be kept at a minimum – circa 4%,” he said.

“Both were achieved in the final agreement. Unfortunately, a new dimension was tabled late in the day in terms of 15% access to Atlanto-Scandian herring, which is rejected. We will have to see how this can be rectified going forward,” O’Donoghue warned.

“Norway’s gains under their latest EU deal allows them to catch 4.5 times our blue whiting quota in our own EEZ,” the IFPO and Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA) said.

“Norway have been allocated an extra 36,000MT of blue whiting in the Irish EEZ, compared to just 4,800MT extra blue whiting for Ireland,” O Donnell said for the IFPO.

“Norway, a non-EU member still secured more out of the deal than Ireland. They can now catch 224,000 metric tonnes (MT) of blue whiting, west of Ireland, whereas we can catch a maximum of 52,000MT in our own waters,”he said.

“In return, Ireland gets just over 258MT of Arctic Cod and access to Norwegian waters to fish 2,640 tonnes of Atlanto- Scandian herring,” O’Donnell said.

“In addition, Ireland benefits from 4,800MT of blue whiting from other member states. This transfer includes a paltry volume of 2,400MT in lieu of Norway having access to the Irish EEZ - outside the Irish Box - to catch an additional 36,000MT of blue whiting,”he said.

“If you do the sums, you can see they can catch almost five times more blue whiting in Irish waters than we can. This last-minute St Patrick’s Day deal does nothing to address Ireland’s unfair share of EU fishing quotas and rights,”he said.

O’Donnell said the industry counted it as “a win” that the EU refused to grant Norway its “unreasonable request for unfettered fishing rights inside the Irish Box”.

“We feel this was due to intense joint lobbying efforts with other fishing organisations. Our industry united as never before to make our voice heard and we are proud of what we achieved together. We feel there has been a discernible shift in attitude at both Dept of the Marine and EU level towards our fishing industry,”he said.

Brendan Byrne of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA) said Brexit was part of the problem leading to this latest deal.

“After Brexit, Norway was excluded from British waters. That displacement brought them into Irish waters to fish their blue whiting quota. Ireland had already donated 40% of the EU’s quota allocation to Britain, so were already the biggest losers post-Brexit. Norway’s increased fishing off our coast thus exacerbated an already grave situation,” Byrne said.

“The Irish Government and the EU have taken too much from Ireland for too long in fishing, so that others can benefit. This has led to the total decline of our industry, while countries like Norway see massive growth in their seafood sector,” Byrne said.

O’Donnell added that “ Ireland must not be forced to pay because Norway was displaced by Britain, under Brexit”.

“We must not allow Ireland to be the whipping boy anymore. Our challenge now is to keep collaborating cohesively as an industry. We will keep making our voice heard at home and in Europe until we achieve positive growth for the fishing and seafood industry,” he said.

Irish South and West Fish Producers’ (IS&WFPO) chief executive Patrick Murphy pointed out that Ireland was, through the EU, granting access to Norwegian boats to come and catch “hundreds of thousands of tonnes of blue whiting in waters within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone whereby Norway’s total catch of blue whiting in these waters vastly exceeds Ireland’s entitlement to catch fish stocks of all species in Irish waters”.

Murphy said McConalogue should initiate a public consultation to “amend and change his department’s current policy on herring in Area 6a and immediately embark upon a review of policy for blue whiting”.

Boats registered in the polyvalent segment of the Irish fleet are “limited to 9% of Ireland’s total allocation of blue whiting with qualified boats having to enter a lottery so that 12 boats can be allowed partake in the fishery while the 23 boats registered in the RSW-pelagic segment of the fleet are rewarded with 91% of Ireland’s national allocation”, Murphy said.

Murphy said he had received confirmation from McConalogue that the minister has “declined to embark upon any review of blue whiting policy and has refused to review and balance the allocation of this national quota between the polyvalent and RSW-pelagic segments of the Irish fleet”

He said that this was “despite the very significant increase of 81% in Ireland’s allocation for 2023 and the fact that polyvalent segment boats entitled to partake in the blue whiting fishery are struggling to make a living”.

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A total of 42 owners have accepted offers to scrap their fishing vessels under the Government’s Brexit-related decommissioning scheme.

The big jump in figures – which had been running at 21 accepted offers from a total of 57 offers up to early March – has been confirmed this week by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), the State’s sea fisheries board.

A BIM spokeswoman said the late increase was due to the outcome of appeals, and a decision by a number of owners to accept offers within the last two weeks of the closing date in early March.

The 42 vessels amount to total capacity of over 6,700 gross tonnes, which is 84 per cent of the target of 8,000 gross tonnes sought by the government as part of the Brexit-related scrappage scheme.

The total cost will be 63 million euro, which is below the 75 million euro secured from the EU by Ireland’s marine minister Charlie McConalogue.

The 42 vessels comprise a mixture of prawn and whitefish trawlers, seine netters, gillnetters, and beam trawl vessels, spread around fishing ports along the coast, BIM has said.

A total of four vessels had already been scrapped in “specialist recyclers” based in New Ross, Co Wexford, and Limerick by late March, BIM said.

Scheduling for the 38 other vessels is “underway”, and this must be competed in an “environmentally compliant” manner by October 31st this year, it said.

The Government was seeking to decommission up to 60 vessels from the whitefish fleet, as a result of the overall loss of fish quota due to Brexit.

BIM said this would ensure that over 9,000 tonnes of quota fish valued at €35 million annually would be available for remaining whitefish vessels to catch, ensuring the remaining fleet's economic viability into the future.

BIM’s newly appointed chief executive Caroline Bocquel said that “we understand that any decision to voluntarily decommission vessels is a very difficult one for vessel owners and BIM has been working closely with the industry in recent months to assist vessel owners through the process”.

“Recognising the magnitude of choosing to stop fishing, BIM is confident that the result of the scheme will help put the sector on a firmer financial footing and deliver a more sustainable future for the industry,”she said.

“By restoring the profitability of the fishing sector, it will help those remaining in the sector and support the wider economies of Irish coastal communities,”she said.

BIM said the voluntary decommissioning scheme is one of a number of financial supports for the Irish seafood sector that have been agreed in the wake of the Seafood Taskforce report, which was issued by a task force established by Mr McConalogue to ease the impact of Brexit.

“Thus far, up to €268 million has been made available for a wide range of schemes aimed at supporting the industry to adjust to the new situation post-Brexit,”BIM said.

Irish industry organisations had initially sought an urgent meeting with the Taoiseach on the issue, as there was considerable anger among a number of those who received offers.

Some received offers well below the quoted maximum sum of 12,000 euro per gross tonne.

Applicants who received funding for temporary tie-ups as a Brexit impact measure were also told this money must be paid back under State aid rules.

BIM said “the requirement to repay the tie-up money is an EU rule”.

The funding for the decommissioning scheme is being paid from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) awarded by the EU to Ireland. The sum of almost 1 billion euro must be used up within two years or returned.

Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) chief executive Aodh O’Donnell had called on the Irish government should be keeping tonnage within the State to ensure there is a route for young skippers seeking to buy vessels at a later date.

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